Panerai began making watches in Florence, Italy back in 1860, but it wasn’t until the 1930s that the firm produced its first wristwatch. By then its roots in Florence were as deep as those in Switzerland, where Panerai watches were produced.

The breakthrough for the company was an order for diving watches from the Italian Navy, for whom Panerai had been creating instruments of various types since the turn of the century. With a war coming on, the navy was keen to outfit its elite corps of frogmen with wristwatches.

Featuring a Rolex movement, the limited-edition Panerai Radiomir (only 300 were made) was designed for use by commandos and torpedo riders—frogmen who rode a slow-moving torpedo toward a target before attaching a timed mine to the underside of a ship and then riding away. The watches had a cushion-shaped case, a screw-down crown to keep water out of the movement, and oiled-leather straps that were long enough to be worn on the outside of a diving suit. Given their limited supply and the tough conditions they were subjected to, these watches are very highly prized by collectors today.

The watch took its name, Radiomir, from the luminous material that Panerai first developed in 1910. Made of zinc sulphide and radium bromide, Radiomir allowed the numbers and hands on a watch to be read in dark conditions. It was replaced in 1949 by Luminor, which glows thanks to the presence of tritium, a less-dangerous compound than radium bromide.

Throughout the 1950s and ’60s, Panerai continued to produce wristwatches for the Italian Navy in regular and destro (left-handed) versions. Some watches from this period were known as Trittico watches, thanks to their trio of features, which included a depth gauge.

Panerai also made Kampfschwimmer watches, some with so-called California dials (numbers on the bottom, Roman numerals on the top), for Germany’s only postwar commando unit. And in 1956, Panerai created a large-face Radiomir watch for the Egyptian Navy.

Panerai might have remained a military diving watch in the minds of the public had it not been for Sylvester Stallone, who, in 1995, purchased a Luminor while on location in Italy. Sales of the watches jumped after its debut in Stallone’s “Daylight,” and Sly even had some watches—dubbed Slytech—made with his signature engraved on the back. These he gave as gifts to friends, including fellow action hero Arnold Schwarzenegger.

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Recent News: Panerai Watches

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Hard on the wind at the 2015 Panerai Classic Yacht Challenge
Classic Driver, June 25th

The regattas of the Panerai Classic Yacht Challenge are comparable to historic motorsport. Between Antigua and Cannes, nine races are held. Classic Driver was at the third round in Argentario, on land and sea...Read more

Panerai Classic Yachts Challenge 2015, le barche d'epoca in regata all'Argentario, June 24th

Oltre una quarantina di barche d'epoca si sono sfidate nelle acque dell'Argentario durante le regate del circuito Panerai Classic Yachts Challenge 2015 ammaliando con la loro bellezza ed eleganza non solo velisti e marinai. Ecco come è andata...Read more

Panerai Classic Yachts Challenge: Battle of the Beauties on Day 1 of racing at ...
BYM News (press release), June 20th

On Friday 19 June 2015 - The Grandes Dames of the Sea took to the sea in Porto Santo Stefano for the first day of racing at the 16th Argentario Sailing Week, which this year constitutes the only Italian leg of the prestigious Panerai Classic Yacht...Read more

Monday Morning Find: A Very Early Panerai Powered by a Rolex Movement
Bloomberg, June 15th

Before it was an internationally known brand sported by the likes of Sly Stallone, Panerai was a small watch shop in Florence that made some oversized watches for the Italian Navy. This is one of those watches. Although Giovanni Panerai opened his...Read more

Panerai — Vidéo. Eilean
WorldTempus, June 13th

Mais la marque y participe aussi avec son propre bateau, le ketch bermudien Eilean, acheté en 2007 puis restauré durant trois ans sous l'oeil attentif d'Angelo Bonati, CEO de Panerai, et passionné de voile. Conçu en 1936, le navire de 22 mètres et de...Read more

Dive into the past with the new Panerai Radiomir 1940 3 Days Ceramica
Classic Driver, June 12th

The classic sandwich dial remains, with ecru Super-LumiNova markers to give it a vintage feel, and a subtle relief image of the Siluro a Lenta Corsa, or 'human torpedo', celebrating the 1930s Italian Naval commandos' Panerai watches on which the image ...Read more

A windy weekend in Antibes
World Tempus, June 9th

It is an unusual association in the world of sport, since it is spearheaded on the personal initiative of the brand's CEO and Panerai also enters its own yacht in the regatta. The Earth's landmass is huge, but the oceans are even bigger. This is why a...Read more

Panerai Radiomir 1940 3 Days Ceramica - 48 mm, June 7th

Panerai's latest version of its Radiomir 1940 3 Days Ceramica, this week's Watch to Watch, blends history and modernity — with a contemporary, matte-black ceramic case and a minimalist dial inspired by the brand's history as a supplier of timepieces...Read more